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Saturday, March 18, 2023

Serving the needs of children

Let's how Republicans do that


We’re hearing Republicans say they are celebrating services for children even while undercutting practical support for child health and welfare.

It’s a disturbing hypocrisy.

If cutting federal spending is a desirable Republican goal over all else, okay, that’s understandable even if disagreeable. If promoting a religious-based view of morality is super-important, at least I can follow that without regard to my opposition.

But to hear Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) draw ovations at the CPAC conservative conference last week that “When it comes to kids, I think the Republican Party has a duty — we have a responsibility — and that is to be the party that protects children,” it’s at odds with the votes and actions that GOP lawmakers take on issues like extending child tax credits or even child health insurance measures.

Of course, Greene was talking about her “Protect Children’s Innocence Act” that outlaws a dozen or more medical interventions used to treat gender dysphoria in transgender young people – a bill that went nowhere last year. 

The measure would also prohibit using federal funds for gender-affirming health care, including in Affordable Healthcare Act plans, regardless of state laws that she and her Republican colleagues say they support more generally.

She would protect some children, not others.

In Arkansas this week, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a newly passed bill that would remove the state’s requirement for children under 16 to prove their age to get a job. 

In her view, deleting the requirement would underscore the idea that it is parents who decide whether their minor works at a job up to eight hours a day or not, adding that other child labor laws remain in effect. It’s essentially an identification document for minors.

This bill emerges among coincidental disclosures that thousands of migrant minors are being put to work nationally at factory and slaughterhouse jobs that often are hazardous – prompting a federal Labor Department crackdown.

It’s frankly hard to see elimination of regulation as protection for child services when the marketplace says otherwise.

What About Real Child Services?

This last week marked the expiration of the pandemic-ordered boost to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, the formal name for food stamps. It has been credited with keeping 4.2 million children in 32 states from poverty conditions. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act had passed in 2020 to temporarily boost SNAP benefits.

Some states — including the same Georgia and Arkansas — have stopped issuing the emergency allotments, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

You might have thought that promoting the GOP as the Party of Child Protection would include food help.

Republicans last year made clear that they would oppose extension of child tax credit direct payments to families that had been adopted during the pandemic. And even federal subsidies for health insurance for eligible low-income uninsured children and pregnant women whose income is too high to qualify for Medicaid is capped after 2027.

In all the speechifying among conservatives trying to out spiral one another towards the destruction of the nation’s social service nets, you hear few MAGA leaders talking about spending on child services.

By comparison, the morality-fueled opposition to abortion runs high and hot in this political crowd, with states that rank low in public services for children continuing to invent new ways to discourage lingering legal abortion within their states – or even across state borders.

Texas legislators have a bill that would bar use of credit cards in the state for any abortion services and another seeking to bar the internet from offering abortion information – without regard to legal or practical considerations – and attorneys general from red states successfully got Walgreen’s to decide against distributing abortion medications even in some states where they are legal. Other states are considering bills to charge women criminally for use of medical abortion pills.

The lists of states measuring low on a range of child protective services, from infant mortality to poverty to graduation rates show a high correlation with the states supporting the most severe forms of anti-abortion legislation.  Few of those supporting anti-abortion laws are also voting for child services.

The Politics of Woke

Clearly, we also are seeing the protection of children argument at heavy use in the world of education. Public schools and teachers are finding themselves at the sharp end of attacks on what is considered teachable curriculum, on the use of books that continue to be banned, and on the use of public education monies for parochial school tuitions.

We’re watching Tennessee ban drag shows in the name of protection rather than address oversexualization of our advertising or the mental health fallout of the body shaming that seems to mark increased social media usage by pre-teens.

Clearly, school shootings don’t seem to make it into these Republican lists of needs to protect children. The mass shooting incidents continue as we place worship of guns several notches ahead of child protection.

“Child Protection” as a Republican mantra has become a plank in the culture wars to protect children from being “woke.” The Republican translation of “woke” is anything that disturbs traditional thinking about a dominant White, Christian society and pushes back against an America that increasingly is a multi-racial and identifying in more gender-fluid ways.

If these same Republican speakers were truly caring of more individualism in America, of eliminating bars to allow for individual parents and households to decide for themselves about cultural issues, then they would be turning away from such campaigns that dictate what ideas are held to be acceptable.

We’d be a lot better off if Republicans and Democrats alike would start with whether children have food, health, housing and opportunity and gun control laws rather than a prescribed set of books and school bathroom usage codes.

Terry H. Schwadron retired as a senior editor at The New York Times, Deputy Managing Editor at The Los Angeles Times and leadership jobs at The Providence (RI) Journal-Bulletin. He was part of a Pulitzer Gold Medal team in Los Angeles, and his team part of several Pulitzers in New York. As an editor, Terry created new approaches in newsrooms, built technological tools and digital media. He pursued efforts to recruit and train minority journalists and in scholarship programs. A resident of Harlem, he volunteers in community storytelling, arts in education programs, tutoring and is an active freelance trombone player.